What Is THC, Exactly? A Simple Guide


THC wears many hats and goes by many names. Kush, bud, hash, weed, Mary Jane, herb, gate-way drug, and medicine are just some of the common labels put on THC. They love it, they hate it, and everything in between.

THC is a common buzz word during these changing times of perception towards its use, but what is THC, exactly? Read on to demystify the term THC and get the facts in this simple guide.

What Is THC?

THC is a chemical compound. THC is short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Cannabis is the scientific name for marijuana. Cannabinoids are crystalline compounds found in cannabis. THC is one of close to 150 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

How THC Works on the Brain

THC is the ingredient in cannabis plants that gives the user their “high” or desired physical and mental effects. THC is classified as a psychoactive substance. Governments around the world have laws criminalizing the production, sale, and use of products that contain THC.

THC interacts with parts of the brain called cannabinoid receptors. This process causes the brain and body to react causing a variety of physical and mental effects. The use of THC has many consequences, both positive and negative. This fact makes the legalization of THC a hot topic of debate.

Users of marijuana report feelings of relaxation, euphoria, heightened senses, increased appetite, and better concentration and creativity. Cannabis is known to reduce pain, relieve depression, and help with other mental and physical conditions.

On the other hand, feelings of dependence, paranoia, short term memory loss, and even drug-induced psychosis are also common reactions to the compound. The benefits of THC and negative side effects vary from user to user.

The amount of THC found in marijuana and its concentrates dictates its potency. How much THC is present in the drug depends on factors such as how the plant was grown, the type of cannabis, and if it has been concentrated from its plant form.

Parts of the Plant

THC is in almost every part of the cannabis plant, but some parts contain more of the chemical than others. Let’s take a look at the different concentrations of THC in various parts of the cannabis plant. 


Marijuana seeds contain only trace amounts of THC. Residue from the flower in which the seeds reside may coat the seed but as for the seeds themselves, there is very little THC present.

Leaves and Stems

There are trace amounts of THC throughout the plant’s stems and leaves, but the highest concentrations are in the stems and leaves close to the flowering part of the plant. Leaves and stems are either discarded or processed to extract and concentrate the THC.


The flower or bud is where the highest concentration of THC is. This is why the buds of the plant are what is weighed and sold to consumers. Buds that contain seeds are generally thought to have lower THC levels.

Marijuana buds boasting high THC levels seldom contain seeds and have white crystals forming on them. These crystals are called trichomes and have concentrated amounts of THC.

Sex and Strains

Not every bag of weed is created equal. The THC content by weight determines the drug’s quality, value, and desirability. When using marijuana, considerations to the sex, strain, THC concentration, and desired effect determine what type of THC product to choose.

Male Plants

Like humans and most life forms, plants have genders. Male plants have little to no THC.

Male plants are undesirable when growing crops of marijuana for recreational use due to their low THC content. Another cannabinoid CBD, known for its medical benefits, is present in both male and female plants. Female plants have higher concentrations of both chemicals.

Female Plants

Females are the more alluring of the sexes. Female plants have little to no seeds and produce large buds with much higher THC content. Chalk one up for the girls. Male plants can contaminate marijuana crops by pollinating the females, thereby lowering THC levels and causing seed production.

Indica vs Sativa

The main types of cannabis are subspecies Indica, Sativa, and hybrid strains. Different strains tend to have different effects on the mind and body. The jury is still out on if this is the case or a matter of perception.

Indica is said to have a more relaxing and sedating effect on the user while Sativa is more energizing and uplifting. Hybrids are crossbreeds between the two. Labs and grow operations all over the world breed and alter strains of marijuana. It is rare to find a pure Indica or Sativa strain of marijuana these days.

Acapulco Gold, Purple Kush, Sour Diesel, White Widow, and Northern Lights are only a few names of the hundreds of strains of cannabis. To get an idea of what strains are available on the marijuana market, what they look like, and the advertised effects of various strains take a look at this guide to cannabis.

THC Levels of Strains

The average potency of THC in cannabis strains has increased significantly over the years. In the 1970s when smoking marijuana first began to be popular with America’s youth, the average THC content was only 0.72%.

By 2003 growers had engineered strains that were 6.4% THC and 2018 estimates were above 15% THC. Today there are several strains available that have THC levels over 20%. The Cannabis Cup winner Godfather Kush is the most potent strain in the world at 34% and higher THC levels.


Marijuana can be further processed down to increase potency. Hash is the most common type of concentrate. There are many methods of making hash but the most common is to separate the crystals from the buds with a “shake screen.” The pollen or crystals are then compacted into coins, balls, or cubes.

The most potent of concentrates are dabs. Dabbing or smoking these potent oils and resins is becoming more popular as availability increases. Many dabs have THC levels of over 70% with some as high as 80%-85%. A dab called “Gorilla Glue” has reportedly tested at concentrations of 96% pure THC.

THC: Good or Bad?

“What is THC?” is an easier question to answer than “Is THC good or bad for society?”

Like everything, THC has its good points and bad points. It is safe to say while some users benefit greatly from using marijuana others may suffer side effects or adverse reactions.

Ultimately the value of THC is decided on a case by case person to person basis. There is so much more to learn about cannabis and the famous substance THC. Have a read of other articles on the site to learn more.